This is embarrassing, right? I have not posted on my novel-in-progress since late October [I forced myself to check the date].
Do any of you remember what was happening to our lovers? Well, in case you do not, they are in south western France and Tom suspects that Anika is murdering pilgrims on the Camino and is torn between his love for her and trying to solve the mystery of the killings.
What to do?
Keep quiet and pursue the truth on the Camino?
Is there ever a single truth?
Tom has been attacked and may be in danger; should he give up and slip quietly away?
So, what have I been doing in the last x months? Apart from living life and earning a few dollars consulting?
November was NaNoWriMo 50,00 words in a month and I have revised my effort down to a 25,000 word novella which I intend to submit to a competition in May. I have experimented with 6 and 100 word flash fiction, partly as a bit of fun and partly as practice in writing intense moments of prose with no verbiage, explanation, backgrounding etc.
Is this a list of excuses for inactivity on my Camino novel? Fortunately not.
Most days I have been writing the 4th draft of ‘Love and Death on the Camino’ and have revised to that point of the story where Tom is forced to face the very real possibility that his lover is a serial killer. Yes, we are back to where we left off.
So, watch this space!
Oh, am I happy with my revision? Hmm. the plotting is tighter and the characters more rounded and sympathetic [says me]. It will need at least one more total rewrite after this and I shall be ready to send it out maybe by the end of 2015.
So, once upon a time two people crazed by grief fell in love ….what could possibly go wrong?
He woke and saw her standing by the bed, staring down at him. What did she want from him? She had been dead ten years and still she came and watched and waited.
Her gaze was steady; he yearned to reach out and take her hand, yet knew instinctively that to do so would be his own death. Nor did he dare to close his eyes.
Why did she visit him every night? What was she seeking from him or trying to tell him? He had done his best. Nobody blamed him, not to his face at least. What else could he have done? The alternative had been unthinkable and what would it have changed?
Would she have lived if things had been different between them that day?
She gazed at him, unwavering, expressionless, the dark eyes he could never forget. The room grew cold. he wanted to reach out and hold her, it was ten years too late.
She faded away, to reappear the next night and every night until finally, in the pre-dawn light, he did what he had long known was the only way out.
On Sunday a friend died, perhaps she took her own life, perhaps not. She was not a close friend, others closer to her are grieving deep as I write; for me she was a smart, funny and caring person whom I liked and respected.
Her death shocked me and it has triggered profound memories of friends and family whom I have ‘lost’ over the years. In my student days from drug overdoses deliberate and accidental and later in life from cancer, the number one killer far above mental illness as number two and any other cause negligible. Some were ready to leave, others resisted to the last.
So, it has left me numb and triggered the predictable reactions of grief, sorrow, sad memories, questions about what is truly important in life and how to lead a good life and the importance of showing others that we love them and value them.
Nothing original here.
The beautiful title line is by Tennyson in his “Ulysses”.
What has intrigued me since Sunday is our use of the word ‘loss’ to describe our emotions. We ‘lost’ a loved one or the world has ‘lost’ a beautiful person. I understand why we say it and I say it myself, for they are gone and we remain, but now I am wondering what it means to say ‘lost’?
I write here of myself, I do not speak for others.
They are ‘lost’ in their corporeal selves – ‘never again’ to touch or to speak – but they are not lost to our memories and in their acts and shaping of others and not lost to the world except in an immediate, concrete, tactile sense which is never again. They are gone from me. I don’t know how to put this in words, nor what are the right words. what I do know is that I have spent four days puzzling over the word ‘loss’ and understanding it intellectually yet with a gnawing feeling that it is not adequate.
Death is a rupture. There is ‘before’ and there is ‘after’ and nothing is the same.
This is not about finding euphemisms for death, it is about finding the right word, if indeed one word can capture the emotional intensity of death.
Remember Anika and Tom? You do? It has been only one month since I wrote here of their adventures, it seems longer than that as I have been busy on other tasks.
Both have been walking the Camino, they have met and (like in the Hollywood classics) have agreed to meet in a year. No contact during the year, no plans, they will find each other for true love always finds a way.
Back in Australia, Tom is gathering information on pilgrims dying on the Camino in Spain and on the Chemin de Saint Jacques in France; in fact, some 10 or so people are known to die each year walking or cycling to Santiago, there may be more that are not recorded, and there are plaques here and there to commemorate their lives and deaths. This has always been a reality on pilgrimages, more so in the past when illness was rife and banditry a constant danger.
Now Tom is returning to Europe to cross the Pyrenees on commission and then to walk from Le Puy en Velay to Saint Jean Pied de Port to gather more information re peregrino deaths and, of course, to meet Anika on 22 May.
He has decided to write a novel about love and death on the Camino as a cover for his research on the personal tragedies of the dead pilgrims. Yes, there is some old fashioned post-modern reflexivity at work as I write a novel about a guy writing a novel. Do not to be alarmed, there will be no linguistic tricks or theorising, it is simply a device for Tom possibly to earn some money (he has no source of income) and to put a little distance between him and the realities of pilgrims dying.
It is as if Lucy has stepped out and is expected home any moment, for Tom has changed nothing in the house since the day of her death. It is a shrine to her memory.
Her clothes hang in the wardrobe, her shoes remain lined up in their grey wooden rack and her perfume and cosmetic bottles hold guard in the bathroom. The book she was reading lies open on the bedside table on her side, the one closest to the window overlooking the rear courtyard, and her iPad lies, battery flat for many years, on the dressing table where oft she sat and did her makeup while he watched and they talked of the day.
He has moved her bike from the entrance hall, but only to bring it upstairs to his study so that he can gaze upon it as he writes.
Tom knows it is all a bit “Miss Haversham”, but has rejected the pleas of his friends to change. He has no heart for it.
Tom is not mad. He knows the boundaries. He has not clothed her dressmakers dummy and danced with it at night, nor does he set out meals for her each day.
If, however, he can bring her back to life through the strength of his love, what might making a shrine achieve?
Now, after meeting Anika and returning home to Brusnwick, Lucy persuades him that it is time to change. Baby steps maybe, but steps all the same. The photos on the stairs walls they will not touch. The photos on the bedside tables they will not touch, nor her perfumes or the half empty bottle of her shampoo in the shower.
He does agree to donate some of her clothes to charity and to give away her shoes and collection of her trademark cloaks to a vintage shop run by Clarissa. He keeps her dresses with special memories and the crimson shoes she wore the day they wed, reluctantly agreeing to move them to the spare room.
He feels empty afterwards and barely listens when Lucy whispers that next he must rearrange the furniture and throw out the old fashion magazines still cluttering her work table, scissors and tape where she left them that last morning of her dashing out with a kiss and a wave and a slam of the rusty gate.
One step at a time.
Tom is on the Camino, walking and talking with his beloved Lucy and, spoiler alert, we soon learn that she died five years ago and that Tom, immersed still in his well of grief and longing, keeps her alive as his spiritual companion.
Tom is not crazy. He knows that Lucy is dead. He has chosen to manage his grief by keeping the memory of Lucy alive in his own way. She is his companion.
Anika, whom Tom has not yet met, has chosen to deal with a similar situation by grieving for a time and then burying it unresolved. Naturally such intense emotion will burst out in extraordinary ways and so it does with Anika. But that is far In the future.
We all live with memories of joy and sorrow, of regret and remorse. Some of us may turn these into ghosts, knowing that they are projections of us.
And yet may they have a life independent of us?
And this takes place on the Camino: what better place for such powerful forces to play out, a place steeped in memories and hopes and experiences of redemption, of miracles and of simple second chances.
Or pure good luck, which can happen anywhere.